Edgerrin James, the Indianapolis Colts’ former star running back, talked about the biases he had to overcome throughout his career.
This weekend’s NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony featured several engaging moments from its newest members, first-rate athletes who were presented with gold jackets and bronze busts carved in their respective likenesses.
Indianapolis Colts’ former star running back Edgerrin James gave a prolific speech Saturday, in which he talked about the societal biases he had to overcome throughout his life and career.
Edgerrin James gives his speech at his Hall of Fame induction. (Photo: NFL)
“For some reason, I always had to deal with perception,” he said. “Perception, though, isn’t always reality. It definitely wasn’t my reality. People looked at my gold teeth and dreads and were shocked and surprised I had never been under arrest or spent time in jail.”
“So many people told me you can’t have dreads and gold teeth and be accepted in the NFL, but I never listened,” continued the Florida native. “I always knew who I was: a great football player, a great father, a proud Black man, a lion, and (the dreads) was my mane, which many of those doubters would later discover once they got to know the real me.’’
“Times have changed,’’ he said. “Look around the league. Look at some of the young stars. As a matter of fact, look at my Pro Football Hall of Fame bust. Rockin’ the same dreads they said I shouldn’t.”
“My closing message: Proudly represent the real you,” said James, “Follow your dream, aim high, and dream the life you want to live. And to all those who’ve been judged prematurely because of their appearance, the way they speak, where they come from, and, in the minds of many, should be locked up in prison, I represent us.”
Former NFL player Edgerrin James takes a selfie with his bust during the induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane-Pool/Getty Images)
“I’m forever immortalized,” he maintained, “locked up in the Canton Correctional Institution.’’
In a powerful conclusion, James looked inside the gold jacket — a traditional item presented to all Hall of Famers upon their entry — and deemed himself “Inmate No. 3-3-6 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
“I started with gold teeth,” he said, “and ended with this gold jacket.’’
In attendance supporting Edgerrin James, who played for the Colts and the Seattle Seahawks, were his mother, his six children and his football coaches from high school and college. Eden James, the Hall of Famer’s son, has accepted a scholarship at Indiana University, where he will also play in the running back position.
The elder James has a book forthcoming called “From Gold Teeth to Gold Jacket: My Life in Football and Business,” due out in October. He was part of the 2020 HOF class, but was inducted along with the Class of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Edgerrin James’ speech has since been called a highlight of the evening, reportedly stealing the show as he appeared to allude to the fight for Black lives.
“Throughout my career, I took pride in representing my culture, my people and keeping it real, and I did it all while I did my job,’’ said the 1999 Offensive Rookie of the Year. “In the real world, we need to think about protecting people we’re supposed to protect.”
“Think about what happens to our culture and to our families if we don’t give the protection we’re supposed to,’’ James said. “It tears us down. It kills our confidence. It divides us.
“Do your job,” he added. “That’s what I did.”
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